When Spring Break Turns Deadly - Garage Door Edition
December 1, 2015 12:37 PM   Subscribe

My 1954 MCM ranch house still has the original single-panel garage door (see here). The original spring hardware looks pretty scary...but how dangerous is it, and what are my options for eventually replacing it/the door with something that won't anger my inner design critic?

Some background: the previous owners of the house had converted the garage into a family room, and in doing so had actually removed the spring hardware while sealing the door shut. I was quite taken with the uniqueness of the door and was delighted when my partner and I found said hardware squirreled away under some adjacent paneling. We reinstalled it as we un-sealed the door (we wanted to actually be able to open and close it). It worked fine when we hooked it up in 2009, and continues to work fine to this day -- but I am nonetheless leery about standing/walking/working in the general vicinity of the door mechanisms.

I'm open to the idea of replacing the door, but I'd really like to stick with something that complements the architecture of the house (in other words, simple, clean, possibly enhanced with geometric designs, if that). Suggestions for vendors, etc. that could assist with this in the SF Bay Area would be greatly appreciated (I've seen lots of lovely images on Pinterest and the like, but that hasn't led me to any local resources).

I really, really don't want a vinyl/aluminum raised-panel roll-up door. Those make me sad, and they (IMO) look silly on MCM ranches.

I will also say that I actually really like having the opening/closing of the door be a manual operation, vs. an electronic one. Since we use the garage as a workshop vs. for car storage, we actually only have occasion to open the door maybe 2-3 times a year, and it's nice not having to worry about keeping track of those little push-button whatsits. Is there any sort of modern door hardware that isn't remote/electric?

In the meantime, though, as we ponder replacement options - how scared should I be of the existing spring hardware, and what is the most likely failure mode/point of catastrophic deconstruction? I can't figure out if I'm nervous for a good reason, or whether the age and size of these springs is throwing off my hazard-o-meter.

posted by aecorwin to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: These kind of torsion spring systems are still common, and you can buy readily replacements and parts. I can't see from the image exactly what variety it is (they're all fairly similar in design, I believe), but there are many tutorials online (example) for DIY repair.

Typically, the mechanism is just bolted to the door and can be removed - that looks to be the case with yours.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:41 PM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

When my garage door spring broke, the door slammed shut. Which would be bad for a person or thing under the door at that moment, but the door itself can likely withstand the fall. (And the sound of the spring breaking would be difficult to ignore.)

A guy came and replaced the spring and nothing else.

Pretty much all new garage door controllers have a keypad that mounts outside for opening the door without a clicker. Plus you have the button beside the internal entry door. Very new controllers also (sometimes) have a monitor that goes inside the house and tells you whether the door is open or closed, which is nice if you're an obsessive door-checker with bad short-term memory, like myself.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:51 PM on December 1, 2015

Best answer: I have similar 50's-era garage door hardware, and recently one one the springs broke. The door was closed at the time (spring fully under tension) and nobody was in there, but if one snaps when fully extended, watch out. Mine broke where the wire makes the right-angle at the end to form the terminal hook. You could maybe string aircraft cable through the springs and anchor the ends (in a way that doesn't interfere with the operation) as a safety measure.
posted by achrise at 1:11 PM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

kind of confused about the question here, but i think that mechanism looks pretty cool and would keep it. you could get it serviced or just check yourself for wear at obvious problem places (see post above). if that's the kind of thing you're not confident about, do you have a handier relative you can ask?
posted by andrewcooke at 1:32 PM on December 1, 2015

Unless you have kids who like to play around under the door, I wouldn't be too concerned. There are probably garage door specialists in the area who can check it out for you.
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:44 PM on December 1, 2015

Best answer: The springs will eventually break (if you live in an area like I do with tough winters and road salt they will probably break more often). Replacing them isn't all that difficult but probably not a one person job unless you really know what you're doing and have the right tools.

When they do break, the usual result is the door becomes impossible or at least difficult to open. There is some danger that you'll get hit by the broken spring, of course.

Regular maintenance will do a lot to prevent unexpected breakage and generally make the door a lot easier to handle. If you're committed to not using an opener this is really what you want to do.
posted by tommasz at 1:58 PM on December 1, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks, folks. I won't threadsit but, just to clarify a few things:

- Partner and I are both very handy people, and we are the ones who re-installed the mechanisms in the first place after discovering them hidden in the wall. We could certainly take them off again if necessary.

- My question was mainly prompted by the fact that these mechanisms are ~60 years old, period. I had no idea if this alone meant extra caution was warranted.

- I would be overjoyed to keep them (and the door), I just didn't want to do something stupidly dangerous for the sake of aesthetics (I'm kind of a nut for old hardware and sturdy MCM-era stuff).

- I am totally going to see about doing the aircraft cable thing - thanks achrise for the idea! Really, I just don't want the spring tearing my face off if it snaps and flies off the thingy it's attached to.
posted by aecorwin at 3:15 PM on December 1, 2015

Our home garage, built in 1959 has the same hardware. One spring broke and I was prompted to replace all the springs with new ones. The modern replacements are required to have safety cable inside the spring coil. It wasn't a particularly difficult task to replace them, just following instructions that came with the springs.
posted by X4ster at 3:53 PM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

As others have said, the main issue is spring failure. When one of mine (unknown age, but under 30 years old) snapped, I was told I was lucky the spring flew toward the outside wall rather than toward the inside wall. Apparently those things can punch through drywall like it's nothing. Mine wasn't in use at the time, for what that's worth -- I just heard a really loud noise in the garage.

Anyway, if possible, check for metal fatigue.
posted by asperity at 4:09 PM on December 1, 2015

You could probably replace the springs fairly cheaply--I'd rather do that than worry about them breaking and someone getting hurt. Be careful when doing it, or have a pro do it. It would probably just be a basic service call, so $50-100 plus cost of parts.
posted by Slinga at 4:15 PM on December 1, 2015

Best answer: People misconstrue the two types of springs here. This is NOT a torsion spring. Those can be somewhat dangerous. This is just... a spring. Torsion springs twist to apply force against the door mechanism and tension on the spring. These just stretch linearly.

Yea, they break, but it's not a huge deal and they're not all that murderous. My grandfather lived in a very similar house with the same style of door, and the spring broke at one point. It fell on the floor, and i think it murdered... the garage door opener.

A new spring and replacement motor unit later it was fine. Nothing was damaged and no one was impaled.

You could probably order new springs that would fit this and have another several decades of wear and decay left in them before there'd even be a chance of them breaking.
posted by emptythought at 3:15 AM on December 2, 2015

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